The Twelve Best LEAVE IT TO BEAVER Episodes of Seasons Five & Six

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! This week, we’re finishing coverage on the best of Leave It To Beaver (1957-1958, CBS; 1958-1963, ABC), which is currently available in full on DVD!

Leave It To Beaver stars BARBARA BILLINGSLEY as June Cleaver, HUGH BEAUMONT as Ward Cleaver, TONY DOW as Wally Cleaver, and JERRY MATHERS as The Beaver.

Compared to previous seasons, Beaver‘s final two years tend not to be as popular, for they have the same problem first observed in Four: the characters, particularly Beaver, are aging and the show is unable to believably write for teens as it can kids. Accordingly, the authenticity for which we lauded the show in its first few seasons is actively rescinded during the latter half of its run, and this hampers everything — even the comedy, for while the show, primarily in late Four and some of Five, goes broader with its storytelling in an attempt to compensate for what’s missing, enjoyment depends on our faith and investment in Beaver’s depiction. His usage determines all else. As a result, Season Five only works when it’s able to acknowledge that the main player is changing; when it tries to pretend (like Four), that Beaver is still a little kid, we know that’s false and we inherently disconnect. Also, because writing Beaver as he grows is such a challenge, the show continues to decentralize him, throwing many stories to Wally and/or his best friends Eddie and Lumpy, two thankfully flawed characters who are always pranking Beaver and the too-perfect Wally. As I’ve said, Eddie is the series’ best-defined part, and Lumpy’s not too far behind him, but stories that intentionally minimize the role Beaver plays reject the series’ premise and are not worth featuring (unless they’re so hilarious I have no choice). The same goes in Six, which technically tries to catch up with Beaver — now he’s a football star and likes girls — but still can’t write him (the way he talks, the things he wants, etc.) authentically, and thus keeps turning to the older kids for plot, never mind that they’re not 100% believable either. Meanwhile, the final year is also especially tired, with rehashes of old stories that suggest, aside from being incapable of showcasing the new Beaver, it’s also not displaying its era well. That is, though the theme song gets an early ’60s reimagining, the show feels no more like 1962-’63 than 1957-’58, and despite this being true for most domestic shows of the time, it adds to our perception that Beaver is no longer worthy of being called honest… So, with honesty now rare, it’s become the most valuable commodity, determining the entries I’ve selected below; I have picked twelve that I think exemplify the last two seasons’ finest.

 

Season Five (1961-1962, ABC)

01) Episode 158: “No Time For Babysitters” (Aired: 10/07/61)

Beaver feels that he’s too old to have a babysitter.

Written by Dick Conway & Roland MacLane | Directed by David Butler

Barbara Parkins (Peyton Place) guest stars in this outing as the babysitter whom the Cleavers have chosen to watch Beaver, despite the fact that he’s 12 and no longer thinks he needs one. A prime example of the series acknowledging its growing lead character, this installment earns its place here for its self-awareness and its genuine depiction of Beaver.

02) Episode 164: “Wally’s Big Date” (Aired: 11/25/61)

Wally is embarrassed to go out with a girl taller than him.

Teleplay by Bob Ross | Story by Kenneth A. Enochs | Directed by David Butler

You’ll notice that, per what I wrote above, I’ve not selected many of the final two seasons’ Wally-focused shows because, although there’s more of them in this era, unless they make great use of Beaver, they just don’t fulfill the terms of the premise. This is one of the better Wally offerings, however, because the goody-goody teen is shown to have believable insecurities, and is therefore not so perfect after all. It’s a realer take on his character.

03) Episode 171: “Farewell To Penny” (Aired: 01/13/62)

Beaver is excited that his nemesis Penny is moving… or is he?

Written by Dick Conway & Roland MacLane | Directed by David Butler

Beaver’s interest in girls first develops this season in a not-so-funny entry called “Beaver’s First Date”; I probably would have featured it here somewhere if there wasn’t, just two weeks later, a better show — one that employs a more developed recurring character, Penny, to make the same point… but with more laughs, more character, and more Beaver charm.

04) Episode 174: “Beaver’s Long Night” (Aired: 02/03/62)

Lumpy tries to pull a prank while Beaver and Gilbert are home alone one night.

Written by Dick Conway & Ronald MacLane | Directed by Hugh Beaumont

This “home alone” show is one of many examples of Wally’s friends playing a prank on either him or Beaver. In this case, Lumpy’s acting without Eddie, as his attempt to scare Beaver and Gilbert when those two are alone at the Cleavers’ house results in the old bully getting arrested… which yields hahas when Richard Deacon (Mr. Rutherford) wants answers.

05) Episode 176: “Nobody Loves Me” (Aired: 02/17/62)

Beaver thinks that he’s no longer loved.

Teleplay by Katherine Eunson & Dale Eunson | Story by Joe Connelly & Bob Mosher | Directed by David Butler

My pick for this list’s Most Valuable Episode (MVE), “Nobody Loves Me” is an atypical entry, and unlike my prior MVEs, it’s not an accurate representation of this era in the show’s life. Yet it’s a more favorable look at the year, or what Five could have been doing more often, because it not only crafts its premise around the notion that Beaver is becoming a teen and entering a terribly awkward stage of life where his self-esteem is wavering as he himself changes, it also packages its story in a surprisingly pensive teleplay that gives more credit to the characters than most others do. They all feel like people here, and with visits from some of the show’s memorable recurring players (Miss Landers and Gus), this is a quintessential Beaver — a symbol of what it means to grow up, even if the show outside this half-hour can’t keep up.

06) Episode 177: “Beaver’s Fear” (Aired: 02/24/62)

Beaver is nervous about riding a roller coaster.

Written by Dick Conway & Roland MacLane | Directed by David Butler

A popular offering, “Beaver’s Fear” features the classic centerpiece where the title character, after spending the whole show being scared of riding a roller coaster, ends up having a blast while the series’ perennial wise guy, Eddie, ends up scared and acting a fool. But I like it best because the subject of Beaver conquering his fears is related to maturation.

07) Episode 191: “Sweatshirt Monsters” (Aired: 06/02/62)

Beaver wears a gaudy sweatshirt to school.

Written by Dick Conway & Roland MacLane | Directed by David Butler

Reminiscent of earlier stories that would rely on some sight gag to deliver their value — specifically something that Beaver would either choose or be forced to wear — this outing suggests growth, as his garish sweatshirt and the idea of self-expression feels like more of a teen-based premise than something better tailored to a younger kid.

 

Season Six (1962-1963, ABC)

08) Episode 202: “Tell It To Ella” (Aired: 11/08/62)

Beaver writes to an advice column when he dislikes his parents’ rules.

Written by Dick Conway & Roland MacLane | Directed by David Butler

Youthful rebellion has always been a theme on this series, but teens rebel with more of an edge than kids, and it’s rare to see the Beaver openly defiant. That’s what I most appreciate about the premise for this show, which memorably has Beaver turning to an advice column in the hopes of refuting his parents… but, of course, it doesn’t work. Tim Matheson appears.

09) Episode 204: “Beaver Joins A Record Club” (Aired: 11/22/62)

Beaver is unable to budget his money after joining a record club.

Written by Dick Conway & Roland MacLane | Directed by David Butler

We’ve seen similar stories used before on the series, but this premise gains points for both reflecting the early ’60s well — the “record club” is a vestige of this era — and also for recognizing that music is such a big part of kids’, and especially teens’, lives. This is a step towards acknowledging the realities of what boys his age would be enjoying.

10) Episode 209: “The Party Spoiler” (Aired: 12/27/62)

Beaver and Gilbert decide to play pranks during Wally’s party.

Written by Dick Conway & Roland MacLane | Directed by Norman Abbott

Usually this period in the show’s run has Wally’s pals pranking the other characters, so this installment is popular because it reverses the usual setup and has Beaver (with Gilbert, the cut-rate Larry) as its driving agent… Naturally, it’s gentler than it really should be if wanting to produce true guffaws, but at least it has the right idea.

11) Episode 220: “The Silent Treatment” (Aired: 03/14/63)

Beaver punishes his mother after she makes him do something he doesn’t want to do.

Written by Theodore Ferro & Mathilde Ferro | Directed by David Butler

If I were choosing an MVE for the final season by itself, this honor would go to “The Silent Treatment,” which has one of the few stories where the series pits two members of the Cleaver family against each other — or, at least, a truly angry Beaver against someone else. This time it’s his mom, whom he self-absorbedly attempts to punish by giving the silent treatment. It’s a tactic that requires a more developed brain — and a behavioral choice more indicative of teens than kids — so, I like this one because it meets Beaver where he’s at chronologically and gives us some rare, for this period, sincerity in his depiction and their relationship.

12) Episode 234: “Family Scrapbook” (Aired: 06/20/63)

The Cleavers look through a family scrapbook

Written by Joe Connelly & Bob Mosher | Directed by Hugh Beaumont

The series’ finale is a glorified clip show but it’s notable for being among the first self-conscious endings of a television series, as it fully intends to provide closure to these characters by reflecting on their past and acknowledging how much they’ve changed — or haven’t. It’s sweet without being cloying and addresses the main theme of this last list: growth.

 

Other notable episodes that merit mention include: shows that make fine use of Wally’s friends, like “Wally’s Weekend Job,” “Wally Stays At Lumpy’s,” and “The Yard Birds,” and shows with memorable ideas, like “Beaver Takes A Drive,” “Beaver, The Bunny,” “Beaver’s Jacket,” and “Beaver’s Laundry.” Those are all from Season Five. The only Honorable Mentions from Six are “Double Date,” which reveals the delicate dilemma of progressing Beaver while keeping him young, “Beaver’s Autobiography,” in which he’s punished for being a jerk, and “Box Office Attraction,” which I find unintentionally hilarious because it puts the sappy Wally up against what it considers to be a “bad” girl.

 

*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Seasons Five & Six of Leave It To Beaver goes to…

“Nobody Loves Me”

 

 

Come back next week for The Danny Thomas Show! Stay tuned tomorrow for a new Wildcard!

10 thoughts on “The Twelve Best LEAVE IT TO BEAVER Episodes of Seasons Five & Six

  1. I enjoyed your coverage of this classic of dubious quality. Thank you especially for putting into words why the final season’s are so disappointing.

    • Hi, Ian! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Glad you enjoyed — stay tuned for more ’50s fun with THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW!

  2. My opinion of the last 2 seasons, I guess, is very different from yours. Seasons 5 & 6 are my favorites of the series, mainly I guess because I found Beaver’s inability to speak complete words in the early episodes more annoying than charming.

    I’m pretty certain that with my 1st viewing of “Beaver’s First Date” a few months ago on MeTV (i’ve seen it rerun there once more since then.), I’ve now seen every episode of Seasons 5 & 6, and I can’t say that for the earlier seasons. My favorite episode of all episodes I’ve seen is “Beaver on TV” from Season 6. largely because it’s a great museum piece of what was on tv in 1963, with several contemporary references to shows & people like CAPTAIN KANGAROO, MEET THE PRESS, and Jack Paar. I also love that the Rod Serling references come from Stephen Talbot (Gilbert), who made 2 appearances on Serling’s show himself.

    I didn’t care for the shows where Beaver acted particularly immature, like “The Silent Treatment”, “Beaver’s Book Report” (though I thought parts of it were funny), and “The Sore Loser”. I particularly didn’t like that “The Silent Treatment” made Wally seem smarter than Ward, since Ward seemed to love Beaver’s extra attention, while Wally saw right through it. “Beaver’s Football Award” seemed like a remake of “Sweatshirt Monsters” made just months later.

    I liked a lot of the last episodes in the series, like “Don Juan Beaver”, “The All-Night Party” (MiL’s Herb Rudley has a nice part here as Wally’s date’s strict father.), and “Beaver Sees America”. “Family Scrapbook” was fun as a series finale but implausible in that they’d be looking at photos like Beaver & Larry sneaking around in Larry’s sister’s bedroom and Ward’s recognizing a photo of Wally coming right after he’d blown a school election due to Ward’s bad advice.

    Thanks for your look back at a nice series, though I know it wasn’t a favorite of yours. Could you ever be talked into reviewing THE BRADY BUNCH? After all it comes from the creator of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, and it has half the episodes that LItB has (in just 1 less season).

    • Hi, Jon! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I think you blur an important distinction between stories in this era where Beaver is immature because a script is unable to depict him in accordance with his actual age and stories where Beaver is immature because he’s actually allowed to have flaws, which — shocker — actually yield conflict in a series counterintuitively light on it.

      The three examples you cited of Beaver’s immaturity (“Beaver’s Book Report,” “The Silent Treatment,” and “The Poor Loser”) belong in the latter category, because they offer character choices that he wouldn’t have made, and didn’t, in earlier years when he was acting with more naiveté and less conscious deliberation. The fact that Beaver’s now making more effort to misbehave, like an actual teenager, may be an immature trait to us as adults, but actually represents maturation based on both the way his character was written before and what we know of real-life teens.

      In contrast to those episodes are a few you mentioned enjoying — specifically “Don Juan Beaver” and “Beaver Sees America” — where Beaver plays a romantic lead as his new interest in girls is used to refute the idea that the series can’t present a teenage Beaver accurately. But they only suggest this age-appropriateness narratively, keeping a depiction of Beaver that’s more reminiscent of earlier seasons’, where he erred unintentionally and in spite of his own best efforts. You see, this doesn’t actually produce any evolution within the Beaver character, for he’s written exactly the same as he would have been two or three years ago — with no choices that reveal growth — and it therefore only reinforces the primary problem of Five and Six: Beaver is too seldom believable as a teen. And this is not merely about story; it’s about HOW he’s depicted.

      (As for “Beaver On TV,” yikes! Beaver has nothing to do with the conflict, which is situational and doesn’t even have the laughs to support the viability of its character-avoiding premise. I like television, too, but that wouldn’t be enough of a reason to champion this unideal excursion. At the same time, I wouldn’t discount “Family Scrapbook” because of perceived blips in logic; such nitpicking would discredit every single episode of a series like this, even ones where the character work and thematic interests are worthwhile and impart an emotional sense of realism that’s more important.)

      And, no, I’m sorry because I know you’re a fan; I’ll never discuss THE BRADY BUNCH here. I think it boasts a fraction of the character work of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND because it knowingly relies way too often on camp (it exploits its hokum) to infuse its stories with comedy that otherwise should come almost exclusively from the way characters motivate and/or exist in premise-related story, however silly. This trait also makes it comparatively insincere, unlike the earnest LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, and thus not worth taking seriously in a study of the sitcom genre or of its important trends/subgenres.

      • Thanks for this insightful comment and series of posts. Enhanced my understanding and enjoyment of the series.

        I don’t think I’ve ever seen “The Silent Treatment” but I completely understand what you’re saying about a more flawed Beaver being a sign of his evolution into a teenager. There are too few episodes like that from these final two seasons that are honest in that way. It’s why these years suck a bit more.

        Looking forward to THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW. Are you covering the Jean Hagen years too?

        • Hi, Nat! Thanks for reading and commenting.

          Unfortunately, it’s currently impossible to devote traditional coverage to the Hagen years, but they will be discussed as part of a broad study of the series, prior to Season Four and the start of favorite-picking lists.

  3. Thanks again for reviewing this series. I have always been a big fan. I also enjoy the last two seasons. I like that the boys are growing up and that the series dealt with that. Jerry Mathers voice change tales a while to get use to but just shows that he is growing up. I saw “Family Scrapbook” a couple of years ago and really liked the closure for the series. Thanks again Jackson for all your hard work.

    If there one series you would do for fun, which one would it be? It might be campy or silly. Just curious. I love “The Munster’s”. Can’t remember if you have reviewed that one.

    • Hi, Smitty! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Most of the series I examine here I find both fun to watch and fun to discuss. In fact, I can count on one hand the shows I truly felt more obligated to cover than wanted to cover. So, of the series that I would do for fun, the answer would be: almost ALL of them! However, to give you a tangible answer of a show that was fun to cover/watch but I could have skipped in a critical survey of essential sitcoms, it would be THE NEW DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. (But, again, it was fun, so I’m glad I didn’t skip it!)

      As for shows I find “silly” but still enjoy, I think you’d have to put most of the ’60s comedies we’ve already looked at in that pile, including and especially the aforementioned GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, which I think is the perfect example of that decade’s trend towards unrealistic escapism because it counters its occasional absurdity with well-defined characters and a premise that forces they be well-utilized, making the series worthwhile not just as a study of the era but also as a model for what we *want* the sitcom to be. BEWITCHED would be another classic in this vein, but it’s comedically less silly (for most of its run), and therefore not as extreme a reference point.

      And to your last question, I haven’t yet covered THE MUNSTERS, but I’m still considering it. Admittedly, it would have a better chance of being seen here if a little thing called THE ADDAMS FAMILY didn’t also exist.

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